Discussing the Origins of Interracial Disparities with Another Public Intellectual

My initial email:

Professor [X],

After flipping through your study re: the heritability of IQ under different SES environments and formative circumstances, as well as a couple blog posts of yours and your podcast with [Y], I see that you are massively aware of the mind-boggling causal uncertainty at the heart of the debate, and that the role you’ve assumed for yourself in this debate is informed largely by the ‘reductio ad horrendum’ argument for erring on the side of the culturist interpretation of intergroup disparities, in a manner perhaps akin to the famous Werner Heisenberg fudging of nuclear equations during WWII.

    [An aside, not included in the email: The professor’s study, though bandied around in the popular media as proof that environmental explanations of race~IQ trump racial hereditarian explanations, really proves nothing but the fact that privation during a child’s formative years can have a limiting effect on the development of cognition. IE: it proves that environmental/educational/cultural explanations for the race~IQ gap are possible, but it does not prove that this is explanation is the root cause; it does not imply that this theory is superior to the racial hereditarian theory, let alone does it disconfirm (a la Hempel) the racial hereditarian theory.

    The problem with the way this is bandied around as damning evidence for the environmental hypothesis (“all races are the same”) is that, just as the professor himself echoes, it is like comparing the seeds of North American spruces versus European spruces. Just because the seed of a North American spruce is planted in depleted soil, and it grows neither as high as it could have nor as high as a European spruce in rich soil, we cannot infer that the North American spruce is at all predisposed to growing to be as tall as a European spruce in ideal conditions (fertile soil, adequate rains, etc). QED.

    In order to justify this stage of the war on racism, its proponents need to disconfirm the racial hereditarian theory. It is insufficient for them to dig up circumstantial, incremental supporting evidence for the environmentalist explanation. For example, implicit bias (which is all pervading and which, curiously, the victims of implicit bias are themselves bear equal responsibility for), while absolutely real, would occur just the same if the racial hereditarian theory were 100% true.) To repeat what I’ve said before, racial discrimination absolutely does exist, but it in no way disconfirmsHBD or the racial hereditarian theory.]

Pardon that aside, now back to the email I sent him:

I resoundingly echo your emphasis on the mind-boggling causal uncertainty of the entire discussion, and I both understand and admire your rationale for erring on the side of the debate that you do.

Nevertheless, my uncertainty cuts perhaps deeper.

Thus, I ask: Is there no possibility of evil sneaking in the back door; of there being collateral damage and unintended consequences of erring on the side of the culturist hypothesis?

Is it not possible that human and group relations might be more harmonious and sustainable if predicated by decisive agnosticism on this core issue, upon which enduring human coexistence and fulfillment may well hinge?

Thank you,
[Me]

His response:

Al,

I think you may mis-estimate my various reasons for rejecting the hereditarian hypothesis. By far the most important reason is that I don’t think that the structure of the relationship between human genes and complex traits is such that a fixed group different of that kind is possible or even coherent. It is only after considerations of that kind that I would come to balancing the real world consequences of reaching one conclusion or the other. But even there, it is decisive. One has a choice between an unlikely outcome that is completely in line with the Nazi view of the world, vs the more likely possibility that attributes group differences to obvious sources arising in slavery and racism. 150 years is no time at all.

My reply:

Prof [X],

Sorry for taking two weeks to reply to such a generous response as yours. I was a bit apprehensive to read it because these questions have a dominant bearing on my life path.

Anyway:

I don’t mean to suggest that you construct your beliefs based on moral considerations.

“the most important reason is that I don’t think that the structure of the relationship between human genes and complex traits is such that a fixed group different of that kind is possible or even coherent”

Isn’t this sort of what I mean by “mind-boggling causal uncertainty”? As in, that the expression of genes as wetware is about as far from a discernible one-to-one mapping as we could possibly imagine, let alone as determinants of expressed social behavior, temperament and so on? If so then I basically agree, and this is why I think it’s folly on the part of race-realists to make positive arguments for there being essential differences between “races” in X, Y, and Z ways and to X, Y, and Z degrees. [Edit: IE that the ultimate ‘measure of a man’ is an unknowable black box.]

Thus, I agree with “not race-realism” – especially not of the facile, unsavory varieties which were popular last century.

However, I find at least as much cause to be skeptical of the culturist theory, especially when vetting it through the lens of the philosophy of science. Thus, I also agree with “not the culturist hypothesis”.

“It is only after considerations of that kind that I would come to balancing the real world consequences of reaching one conclusion or the other.“

This is where my whole shtick kicks in, which you can perhaps give me a word on. Is mankind doomed to see the world in terms of binaries, or can it walk a middle path which refrains from making affirmative pronouncements on the topic? That is, are our only choices full-blown Nazi-style race science or a war on white racism whose potential for mission creep we have perhaps hardly even begun to witness? The war on racism inflicts a lot of real human misery on a lot of real human beings, which is one reason why a lot of people in the alt-right are so angry and determined.

Al

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